Category Archives: returning soldiers

EXCERPT FROM “HEIRS OF HONOR” – ‘WELCOME TO THE NAM’


 

“….Tragically, the Guerilla Infantry remained experimental; because in the first hour Da Nang, while waiting for orders, we were placed in a large Quonset hut that was destroyed, forty minutes after our occupancy.   The enemy dropped a huge mortar shell on that hut, and ended the experimental unit.  Before that explosion, I was a member of the first company of the Guerilla Infantry to land in Vietnam, about 280 men.  Most of us were nineteen years old, and didn’t think for a moment that we could be a tempting target for anyone.  We felt safe in that giant military base.  When crowded together, we made one great target for some Viet Cong mortar team, and they could not resist.  We were all talking, nervously staring out the mosquito netted windows, when the shell hit….”

“….I recall annoyance at the guys behind me for shoving, or so I thought for a fraction of a moment, then my face hit the net, my feet left the ground, and my head burst through it.  I was out of the hut, flying through the air, my body stinging on one side, from the slap I received.  I rolled and bounced a few times, as I hit the ground.  When I stopped, my ears were ringing at a painful volume, and I wanted to take a nap.  I fought that urge, and got my knees under me.  It was difficult to open my eyes.  My fingers felt the reassuring warmth of the earth, as I got on all fours, but I was dizzy and could not get up for a minute.  I waited for it to pass.  My eyes opened.  There was a terrible smell all around me.  I had a sheet of something on my right shoulder.  I was wondering what happened, when it slid off and made a plopping sound.  The instant I looked at what fell off my shoulder, I vomited.  It was a long stringy sheet of skin, with a tattoo in it.  I retched, over, and over, until I was empty.  I was not sure if I could hear yelling, or if it was my ears ringing.  I got to my feet, and saw others doing the same.  The stink was incredible.  There were sounds of trucks and voices.  My dizziness was passing.  I was wet and looked to see why, a decision I’ll forever regret.  Blood and shit, and bits of intestines, were all over me.  I shuddered in revulsion and stripped off my clothes, unable to stop the convulsions of a new wave of violent retching.  I was naked when I stood, the second time.  A couple of guys joined me, after a few minutes….”

“….One of them said, “Let’s get away from this shit.”  We all agreed, and walked toward the closest tent.  There were six of us when we got there, but no one would let us in because they watched us walking toward them, and every one of us had to stop along the way to retch.  We gathered in front, not capable of arguing.  Then, an angel of mercy came to our rescue, in the form of a sergeant with a hose.  Six naked cherries stood groaning in gratitude, as he hosed us down.  The sergeant hosed us, patiently, and said the only words I remember that day, “Welcome to the Nam, boys….”

STRANGER IN THE MIRROR


A friend sent me this article last week showing ‘before, during, and after’ pictures of combat soldiers that have survived their tour of duty.  If it is true that ‘the eyes are the windows to the soul’, the photographs depicted in this article give a clear visual record of that fact.

My husband is a survivor of three combat tours during the Vietnam War.  Although the war was physically over for him almost forty years ago, he remains haunted by it to this day.  I can see it in his eyes and hear it while he sleeps.  The war will never end for him.  He still runs through those jungles, every night.  He still hears his dead team mates call to him in his dreams.  When he leaves the peace and safety of home and goes out into the world, he is on constant alert.  His eyes are always darting about as he scans his surroundings, always looking for possible threats and escape routes… always on guard and always ready for battle.

I have seen, first hand, how combat affects the human soul and permanently changes the soldiers that live it.  Innocence, once lost, can never be recovered.  My husband is still the same soul that went to war to fight for his country, but he is forever changed, hardened. At times he is seemingly inexplicably both filled with rage, and saddened.  He will never overcome his survivor’s guilt, he can never go back to the young man he was before his soul was forever scarred by war.

There was a time in this country when it was against the law to teach slaves to read and write.  The reason for this was that slave owners feared educated slaves.  They knew that once someone learned to read and write, they could not ‘unlearn’ it.  They knew an uneducated slave was easier to keep docile, while an educated slave could be downright dangerous.

The lyrics, “How you gonna keep em’ down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree” are from a popular World War I song and gives another example of that simple fact.   Once you ‘know’ something, you are forever changed by that information.

Even if they survive combat without physical wounds, the horror of combat and survivor’s guilt leave veteran’s permanently scarred.  They can never be the same as they were.  Their new personas are unrecognizable to everyone they knew, and far too often, to themselves as well.  The person they used to be is dead, buried under the burden of knowledge and experience they now carry.  The person that returns to the world has experienced sights, sounds, and horrors that loved ones cannot even begin to imagine, let alone understand, or relate to… so even though the veteran looks like the same person, they are not, and can never be, again.

I have met enough combat veterans to know that it is the same for each and every one of them.  They are all like my husband.  They all suffer permanently from the damage done to them by their experiences with War.  They all need help to return to the world.  They need the patience and understanding of people that love them.  More than that, they need the acceptance of those people to be unconditional.  The veterans who have been damaged by exposure to combat require acceptance for who they are now. For the most part, they are unable to cope with demands that they return to who they were, before they left home.  That is as impossible as unlearning to read.  The people that love a combat veteran must love them enough to accept the person they have become if they ever hope to help that veteran to heal. They must accept the fact that the person they knew before the war, is a casualty of that war, and will never return.

That is the only hope a combat veteran has of surviving their return to the world.  Our veterans have sacrificed so much for us.  We must not abandon our soldiers.  We must accept them, love them, and do everything within our power to help them as they struggle to survive their homecoming.   Returning veterans may not be the same people we remember them as, but they are still our husbands, fathers, sons and daughters, neighbors, and friends.  They have put their lives on the line, and they deserve our support.

If you want to get a better understanding of what I am talking about, I suggest you take the time to read “Heirs of Honor”. The author, my husband, lived the Vietnam War. He still lives it. His experiences will help you understand YOUR veteran better.

PTSD Dreams


HoH Cover (2)Nightmares are a common event at my house.  Even though the Vietnam War has been over for my husband almost fifty years, he re-visits those battlefields, nightly.  It has become such a normal event that he rarely remembers the details of his dreams when he wakes up, only that he was back in the jungle fighting the war.  I can tell when he is running through the jungle by his violent leg movement, tossing about, and groans, but as I said, these are normal occurrences and we have grown to accept it as part of our lives.  Every now and then, he has more intense and vivid dreams, dreams that seem so real that they incorporate every one of his senses and cannot be forgotten in the light of day.  Those are the dreams that haunt him, and will not allow him the luxury of just ‘putting the war behind him’.

Last night, my husband had one of those dreams.  He could smell the mud, as he burrowed down into it to escape the rounds he heard flying past him.  At one point, a frag hit his chest and he could feel the heat as it burned into his clothing and rolled down toward his crotch, burning his fingers as he tried desperately to brush it away from his skin.  It was that desperation that sent him flying out of bed and up against the bedroom wall, where he found himself waking out of the dream.   When I asked him about it, this is what he told me….

“….I was struggling to get up a small hill, a mound really, that was coated in black slimy mud.  I tried to balance myself by sinking a hand deep inside that mud, to hold myself up.  I remember that everything smelled of putrefaction, like the smell of old grain inside a barn.

I remember being annoyed because it was the beginning of the Monsoon season, and the rain had come early.  The mud was very deep and thick, and as I stood up at the top of the mound, I could hear the rounds coming in on us, so I threw myself belly down, back to the base of the mound for cover.  I heard this ‘flack, flack, flack’ sound of the rounds sinking into mud, making craters where they hit.

Something hit my pack, and I remember thinking to myself that it was a good thing I dived for cover, when I felt something burning, as it rolled around in my clothing.  My fingers burned as I tried to brush it off.  I was very scared, and I climbed to my knees, as I tried to find that hot thing, that chunk of metal that was burning its’ way through my clothes.  As I desperately tried to find that frag before it burned into my crotch, I felt something very hard and cold against my ass.  Then I had to fight like a demon to find out what that was and ever so slowly, I realized that I was standing on top of carpet, and I wondered ‘where the hell did this come from?’  I kept checking my hands for the burn marks, but they didn’t seem to be there…..then I knew where I was….back in my bedroom, leaning against the wall.  Even though I knew it was a dream, I found myself checking my hands for blisters and burn marks, hours after waking.”

As I said, the instances of such vivid dreams have lessened over the years, and usually involve his team mates that died, calling to him as if they were just a few feet away.  They are always together, back in the jungle, fighting for each other.

Even though we are decades past the Vietnam War, a part of my husband remains behind in those battlefields.  No matter how much time passes, he can never fully escape that war.  He just does his best to live with it.

In 1976, my husband suffered one of those ‘vivid dreams’.  He woke up in a park in North Hollywood, California, surrounded by police who had tried for hours to catch him.  He thought they were Viet Cong, trying to kill him.  He spent the next thirty-six years writing about his experiences in Vietnam, as therapy, and in an effort to understand.  ‘HEIRS OF HONOR’ was published in 2012.   

MAN’S BEST FRIEND… A BETTER WAY


According to an article by Bill Briggs (DOD And VA Can’t Prove Their PTSD Care Is Working, Study Claims), posted June 20th, 2014 on NBC News, despite an annual $3.3 Billion spent on medications and therapies, neither the DOD nor the VA can say that hundreds of thousands of troops and veterans are being treated successfully because neither agency is “adequately tracking long term patient outcomes,” according to a study released by the Institute of Medicine on June 20, 2014 and posted in the National Academies Press. Part of the inability to track results comes from the fact that physicians in both agencies fail to share their findings and results they’ve documented from their differing attempts to ease PTSD symptoms.

It is not possible to find a ‘one size fits all’ solution to PTSD. Every case is different. Every case is personal. Everyone responds to the trauma of war differently. They may suffer from common symptoms, but each individual’s experience is unique.

The most common treatment is to prescribe medications however, treating the symptoms with drugs does not fix the problem, any more than a bandage can heal a wound. Drugs are a temporary ‘quick fix’, often causing more problems due to side effects, and only serve to mask the symptoms. Drugs do not cure PTSD. There are better options available, although seldom recognized by the VA.

In 2009, Senators Al Franken and Johnny Isakson cosponsored ‘The Service Dogs For Veterans Act’ directing the VA to establish a pilot program in partnership with non-profit service dog agencies to pair service dogs with veterans with physical and mental disabilities, including PTSD. The bill was included as an amendment in the National Defense and Authorization Act that passed the Senate on July 23, 2009, and subsequently signed into law by President Obama.

In a New York Times article ‘For The Battle-Scarred, Comfort At Leash’s End’, published April 3, 2010, by Janie Lorber, several veterans suffering from PTSD gave testimonials to the ways their service dogs have improved their lives. “In dozens of interviews, veterans and their therapists reported drastic reductions in PTSD symptoms and in reliance on medication after receiving a service dog.”

According to an article (Canine Therapy for Military PTSD) by Rick Nauert, Senior News Editor of PsycheCentral.com, and reviewed by John M Groh, Psy.D., posted July 2010, “…the U.S, Army is using an innovative approach to help soldiers recovery 9th from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder…….According to the Army Surgeon General’s special assistant for mental health, Col. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, M.D., the Army is using dogs ‘much more’ to help soldiers recovering from PTSD.”

Just two years later, per an article ‘VA Cuts Funding for Service Dogs for PTSD’, by Kevin Dolak (via Good Morning America – ABC News) published September 8, 2012, the VA canceled funding for Service Dogs for veterans with mental disabilities. Although, 2014 on NBC News, despite an annual $3.3 the VA recognizes impaired vision, hearing. And mobility as disabilities, and continues to pay for service dogs to assist veterans with those conditions, the VA does not pay for service dogs to assist veterans suffering from PTSD, citing there have not been enough studies to prove the effectiveness of dogs in the treatment of PTSD. Further stating “Although we do not disagree with some commenters’ subjective accounts that mental health service dogs have improved the quality of their lives….VA has not yet been able to determine that these dogs provide a medical benefit to veterans with mental illness.”

On March 17, 2013, Robert T. Muller, Ph.D. published an article (A War Vet’s Best Friend, Cutting PTSD Service Dogs) in Psychology Today, stating “...Even though there are numerous personal accounts of the benefits of Service Dogs for veterans suffering from PTSD, formal research is lacking … anecdotal accounts, however, have shown that up to 80% of PTSD patients who owned trained service Dogs show decreases in symptoms, sometimes even eliminating the need for anti-depressants.”

Muller further states “The cost of treating veterans with PTSD and major depression is almost double the cost of general health care for veterans without PTSD. The cost of a Service Dog including purchase, veterinary bills, and training is approximately $5200.00… Given the high price paid in military spending, as well as the personal and social cost of not treating our veterans, this represents $5200.00 well spent.”

Apparently, the VA can’t prove ANY of their treatments have been effective, yet billions of dollars are spent annually, on drugs without proof of their effectiveness.

With all the new revelations about the VA, I can’t help but question why the VA would prefer to spend so much money to drug our veterans, rather than invest a relatively small amount of money on Service Dogs. Perhaps it is because the non-profit groups that train Service Dogs do not have the same financial resources to lobby the VA and politicians, as the pharmaceutical companies.

Some Non-Profit Service Dog Organizations:

Paws for Purple Hearts

Veterans Moving Forward

Psychiatric Service Dog Society

Canine Companions for Independence

America’s Vet Dogs

NEADS Canines for Combat Veterans

Articles:

DOD and VA Can’t Prove Their PTSD Care Is Working, Study Claims’ By Bill Briggs 6-20-14 / NBC News

For The Battle-Scarred, Comfort At Leash’s End’ By Janie Lorber 4-3-10 / New York Times

Canine Therapy For Military PTSD’ By Rick Nauert 7-9-10 / PsycheCentral.com

VA Cuts Funding For Service Dogs For PTSD’ By Kevin Dolak 9-8-12 / ABC News

A War Vet’s Best Friend, Cutting PTSD Service Dogs’ By Robert T. Muller, Ph.D. 3-17-13 / Psychology Today

VA To Resume PTSD Service Dog Study’ By Rebecca Ruiz 11-22-13 / Forbes

COMING HOME


A post submitted by E. F. Grossman’s Wife:

The horror of combat and survivor’s guilt, leaves veteran’s permanently wounded, even if they survived battle without a physical wound. They can never come home, at least, not as the people they were when they last saw their family and friends. They are unrecognizable to everyone they left behind, and far too often, to themselves, as well. That person they used to be is dead. The person that returns to the world has experienced sights, sounds, and horrors that loved ones cannot even begin to imagine, let alone understand, or relate to… so even though the veteran looks like the same person, they are not, and can never be, again.

My husband had a friend that was a former Navy Seal. Like most that served in the various branches of Special Forces, he had given years of service to his country, and had dedicated his entire life to that service. Since Seal operations are often ‘top secret’, and he took an oath to remain silent (like all special ops soldiers),. As a result, he was forced to swallow his rage and pain, and memories.

He began his service in his youth. The Seals became his only family. When one of his teammates, his closest friend through many missions, and many years, died in his arms, it hit him harder than anything else he had ever experienced. The trauma was so great, that he could no longer function. He was hospitalized, and eventually ‘retired’ from the Navy.

He came home to a world he could not recognize, and tried to blend in. He took a job as a mechanic, but could not hold it. He had a small pension that allowed him to live, but he could not work, or go to school, even though his benefits would have provided an education, he could not keep the focus required for college. Mind you, this was a highly intelligent man. The Seals don’t take dummies. He was just lost in wounds, so permanent that they would never stop bleeding.

His mother could not understand him, even though his father had been a military man. His brother, who had served twenty years in the Army on a base in California, had never seen combat, and could not relate to him at all. He had no friends in the outside world, having joined the Navy at eighteen. He felt most comfortable in that underworld of society, often referred to as ‘outlaw’; because so many in that world were fellow veterans whose experiences were close to his own. They provided him with a foundation of family that he could relate to, since his own family, and society in general, had driven him away. Even when he found a lady and fell in love, she told him to “…just get over it!”

He could not. None of them can.

If you love a combat veteran, you must love them enough to accept them as they are, if you are ever to be able to help them learn to cope back in the world.